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VC to blame for varsity’s failure rate, says Lutaru

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — The Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru) says the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice-Chancellor Sharon Siverts is to blame for the record failure rate at the university. The majority of the students will have to write supplementary examinations to proceed to the next semester or graduate. The worst results are in science, humanities and business-related programmes.

Siverts last week told this paper that the lack of lecturers, the use of part-time lecturers and the short semester could have contributed to the high failure rate. But Lutaru this week issued a forceful rebuttal to her explanations. The union said instead of pointing fingers the vice-chancellor must accept that she is the one who caused the high failure rate. “The vice-chancellor kept quiet when staff and students told her there were no lecturers. This matter was raised by individual heads of departments and at Senate meetings,” Lutaru said in a statement.

“Students also wrote to her to plead for more staff. All this came to naught; in the few cases where she relented, she sabotaged recruitment processes by instructing her Registrar to offer successful candidates poor working conditions, calculating that the candidates would reject them.” It alleged that the “VC has turned deceit, dishonesty, blame-shifting into a management style”.

While the Lutaru agrees with Siverts that staff resignations could be one of cause for the bad performance, it maintains that this too is her fault. The union claimed that this academic year alone over 60 experienced academic staff resigned from NUL or took early retirement. “This staff hemorrhaging started months after her arrival in 2011. They have not been replaced. She seems to thrive when staff is insecure and live in fear of losing their jobs,” said LUTARU.

“Accordingly, she creates such conditions. Many people resigned or retired to escape these conditions. An organisation run in this way cannot retain good calibre staff.” The union said Siverts has resisted any efforts aimed at improving NUL salaries and working conditions. The only salary and working conditions that have improved since her arrival are hers, Lutaru alleged.

“The result is that NUL salaries are very low and unable to attract good calibre staff in most disciplines, and staff does not have teaching and other equipment and aids.” Lutaru further alleged that Siverts has resorted to hiring part-time lecturers to fill up vacant positions. “VC seems to think that there is a pool of part-time lecturers somewhere waiting to be called to help out at NUL. There is no such thing. She likes them because they are cheap.

“Well, they are also difficult to find and very difficult to manage. Above all, depending on part-time lecturers greatly compromises quality and standards.” Lecturers admitted that in some cases they fail to give students feedback as Siverts claimed but said this was largely due to huge numbers combined with teaching on weekends. Following Siverts’s refusal to employ teaching staff, Lutaru claimed, in many departments one lecturer had to be in charge of as many as 300 students.
The union said the vice-chancellor has also stopped support to teaching staff, such as studentships to help with tutorials, labs, and marking.

It said Siverts was misleading the nation when she said labour laws did not allow her to hire people to fill in positions as there might be a possibility of redundancy in the staff. “This is a prevarication; a lie. No law in any country can dictate how an organisation should fill its positions.
“It is the VC who has decided to turn a deaf ear to students, departments and faculties’ pleas for staff, and to sabotage recruitment processes by giving successful candidates one-year contracts, knowing full well they will reject them.”
“She is also not telling the truth when she says that, in blocking appointments of teaching staff, she is implementing NUL Council decision. There is no such decision,” said Lutaru.

By blaming a shorter academic year for the shocking failure rate LUTARU said Siverts “was implying that in examinations, lecturers asked students questions on topics that were not taught”. “This is ridiculous. She may not realise it. She is deliberately also concealing the fact that Senate agreed that the two weeks should be covered by weekend classes.
“Be it remembered: The academic year was shortened to try and normalise things after the mess she created with the July 2012 Supplementary Examinations.”

The union said “Overall, her explanations are interesting in that, typically, she portrays herself as having had no role in these shocking failure rates. “In her view, everybody is to blame but not her”.

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